A few years back if anyone had said that a racist billionaire would be the new hero of the American working class or that an anti-immigrant xenophobic woman would come second in the French presidential elections or that the United Kingdom, would leave the European common market; I would have laughed at that person’s ignorance of international politics. Today, however, that same person would seem to be one of the shrewdest observers of international politics.
The past four to five years have seen a great surge in the popularity of the far-right and hyper-nationalistic parties. Several far-right figures and organizations have won elections or threatened to take power around the world: Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Netherlands, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Donald Trump in the U.S., UKIP and its leader Nigel Farrage in the UK, the AfD in Germany, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, among others. The soaring popularity of the far-right and populism echoing throughout the western world offers plenty of food for thought. The major reason behind the rise of the radical right wing can be traced to the overflow of public resentment towards an ineffective economic framework, that over the decades, has led to a jarring disparity in incomes between the prosperous elites and the struggling working class, a situation only compounded by an ongoing immigrant crisis. The far-right populism has provided an outlet to the pent-up dissent of the public, making full use of the anti-globalization sentiment to its own ends.
Globalization refers to the increasing interaction of people through the growth of the international flow of money, ideas, and culture. The past few decades saw governments all over the world adopting more and more globalized policies in the hope of achieving faster growth and a stronger economy. However, the claims that a flexible globalised economy can generate prosperity that is widely shared no longer hold valid. Opening the economy and doing away with trade barriers have helped the cause of only a select circle of an elite and the greater profits have not seeped down to the lower strata of labour whose interest have been severely compromised in the absence of government aid. The destruction wrought by this laissez-faire economic policy has resulted in a massive backlash against globalization amongst the underprivileged working class. The one common link that characterizes the modern day right-wing nationalism is their vehement opposition to globalization that has defined the world economy, past the 1980s. During her campaign, Marine le Pen famously said that the fight wasn’t ‘between the left and the right but between the Patriots and the globalists,’ thus labelling all those who support globalization as ‘not patriots’ or ‘anti-nationals’. Globalization has led to the loss of many blue collared jobs especially in the developed countries. Many people are feeling that the current political system has cheated them. The far-right has latched on to these sentiments and directed the people’s resentment towards the immigrants, Muslims, refugees, blacks; basically, everyone who is not them.
The victory of several far-right organizations has emboldened the xenophobic elements of our society who have come out of the shadows to openly propagate their abhorrent views and worse, act based on those views. In the US, white supremacists have taken out marches in protest of the removal of statues of Confederate generals. Here in India, attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims and Dalits, have been taking place very often in the name of ‘Gau Raksha’. Several European nations to have seen a rise in Islamophobia which is no surprise considering Muslims have been called ‘Moroccan scum’ and ‘followers of a regressive religion’.
Hate and distrust of traditional media is another factor that unites far-right movements everywhere. Under President Erdogan, Turkey has achieved new highs (or lows?) in censorship by temporarily blocking Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even Wikipedia on numerous occasions. Back home in India, journalists who question the government are frequently called ‘presstitutes’ and ‘libtards’. Donald Trump has repeatedly called news outlets like CNN and NBC, ‘fake news’. Social media has played a big role in propagating their ideas that the so-called ‘other’ people are the reason why these ‘real citizens’ are suffering. Social media has accelerated people’s ability to form like-minded groups and post hateful and fake matter without any consequences.
The frustration and rage of the working class and unemployed have found a scapegoat in immigrants and other minorities. This sentiment has been ruthlessly exploited by demagogues who have further deepened the divisive lines by promoting a false sense of nationalism and intolerance. The profound implications of this radical shift in politics cannot be ignored. However, unless the newly elected right-wing leaders scale up to the expectations of the people, they risk feeling the heat of the same resentment which propelled them to power.
By Niranjan Jahagirdar and Krishnadev Menon.